If you doubt how hungry Georgia players are for Southeastern Conference supremacy, just consult the wait-staff at the Blind Pig Tavern in Athens. When the Bulldogs' offensive linemen weren't each devouring their weight in wings, ribs and one-pound burgers as part of an effort to increase their weight, they were expounding, business-lunch-style, on the need for their unit to lead by example this season. "When you're looking to motivate linemen, an all-you-can-eat restaurant is a good place to start," says senior tackle and team captain Jon Stinchcomb, who weighs 282 pounds after adding seven pounds to his 6'6" frame during the offseason. "When talking to the guys during those meals, I saw a gleam in their eyes that I haven't seen before. It's finally our year."
At this point last summer the Bulldogs were focused on transition, not triumph. Florida State offensive coordinator Mark Richt had replaced Jim Donnan as coach, and the subsequent staff overhaul forced the team's fifth-year senior offensive linemen to welcome their fifth offensive line coach. While getting accustomed to a no-huddle offense and a multiple defense, the Bulldogs seemed to feel their way through the 2001 season and finished third in the SEC East at 5-3. Now, with 15 starters back and Richt's entire staff returning, Georgia should be more poised and more consistent.
None of the Bulldogs are steadier (or headier) than Stinchcomb, a second-team Academic All-America and microbiology major who has yet to miss a blocking or homework assignment at Georgia. The continued outstanding play of Stinchcomb and his beefed-up linemates will be crucial if the Bulldogs hope to match the 432.8 yards of total offense they averaged in 2001.
On defense, senior linebackers Boss Bailey and Tony Gilbert, who combined for 129 tackles last year, will have to pick up the slack for a defensive line that lost two starters to the NFL.
Richt has enough confidence in his skilled and inspired brood that he can already taste a conference if not a national championship. "I see it in the way the players walk, the way they talk," he says. "We have everything in place to make a great run for it."